The social setting Essay
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KES is set in the early 1960’s in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and in the first few pages we get the impression that Billy and his family live on a deprived estate. There are many signs of this throughout the novel and one of the first things we read about is that Billy and his brother not only share a bedroom but also share the bed itself. ‘He stayed in his own half of the bed, groaning and turning…… ‘ The bedroom window didn’t even have any curtains at it.
There was obviously no central heating as Billy was very cold when he got up and had to prepare and light a coal fire. Unlike most homes today there was not much food in the house what food there was, was kept in a pantry rather than a fridge; fridges were not commonplace objects in the homes of ordinary people in the 60’s. the floor covering is another clue to depravation; it was not covered in carpet but lino. The family had not got much regard for their home. One example of this is the mother cleaning her shoes on the edge of the tablecloth.
So as a conclusion to the historical setting we can tell that Billy lives in a time where life wasn’t as easy and things we take for granted like central heating, electricity and hot water weren’t so widely available. Only the rich people had the luxuries like hot water and Billy certainly didn’t live in an area, which had any such comforts, his family was poor and it’s easy see it when reading the novel. The social setting of the novel is mainly his school. He obviously goes to an all boys secondary modern, where discipline is maintained by the headmaster’s cane and the boys are called by their surnames.
The class still have old-fashioned inkwells and blotters at their desks. It would seem that the system has failed Billy if he not competent at reading and writing by the time he is in his last year at school. Though the lack of support by his mother may have something to do with it, I’d presume that Billy had been left to get on with school himself with no help from his mother or Jud. So living in a poor, deprived area and having a bad relationship with his mother and brother, Billy was not given the opportunity to succeed in life. The first incident I have chosen is the opening scenes in the novel.
It shows Billy’s morning routine, getting up, getting dressed and going off to do his paper round. I have chosen to examine this scene because I think it starts to make the reader feel sympathetic towards Billy and understand his situation. This is shown throughout the novel, but the opening scenes give the reader a taste of what’s to come. The short opening paragraph is deliberately harsh. Hines engages the reader immediately with his stark description of the bedroom, which begins ‘There was no curtains up. ‘ This is a short but powerful sentence, as is ‘Silence.
‘ which ends this paragraph and makes the reader wonder what is going to break it. The powerful verbs such as ‘shivered’, ‘scuffled’ and ‘crawled’ all help to intensify the mood of the opening. Hines narrative is extremely descriptive and heightens the reader’s awareness of Billy’s poor living conditions and the depressing area in which he lives. The positive descriptions e. g. ‘The coal had caught fire, and the yellow flames were now emitting a slight warmth. ‘ are always followed with lengthy negative descriptions e. g. ‘ … grabbed his windcheater.
The zip was broken and the material draped out behind him… ‘ The effect of this is to keep the reader sympathising with Billy. The conversations that take place between Billy and his brother, the shopkeeper and the milkman all include local dialect, which suggest the working class background. The first character to be met is Billy’s brother Jud when they are both in bed; Jud is one of the rounded characters in the novel. We can tell from reading the second paragraph that Billy and Jud have to share a bed, which shows us that the family are not very well off at all.
We can also tell that Jud does not like Billy; he was no respect for him whatsoever and seems to take every opportunity to bully him: ‘… thumped Billy in the kidneys’. The conversation between Jud and Billy in this scene is made up of short phrases in which neither character is particularly polite but Jud speaks very rudely to Billy even when Billy is only trying to prevent him being late for work. This evokes empathy within the reader for Billy. This poor relationship is shown many times throughout the novel making us feel more sympathetic towards Billy.
We also meet the shopkeeper in the first few scenes when Billy goes to do his paper round. When Billy arrives at the shop they have a conversation about how Billy was nearly late and how there’s a long queue of people for his job, people from Firs Hill. The reference to Firs Hill is telling us that the Estate that Billy lives on is very poor and rundown and that the people living at Firs Hill are regarded as more important. ‘they’re all alike off that estate. They’ll take your breath if you’re not careful.
‘ These are the words that customers had used to the shopkeeper to imply that all the people from Billy’s estate are thieves and certainly not to be trusted The next character we meet is the milkman, who, like the shopkeeper, is one of the flat characters in the novel. ‘Third class riding’s better than first class walking anyday. ‘ The milkman tells Billy when they meet each other on Billy’s paper round. After talking to the milkman for a while Billy nicks a bottle of milk off the back of the float. ‘On the step stood two empty milk bottles.
‘ This is the reason why Billy nicked the bottle of milk; he had nothing left at home which shows us that neither his mother nor Jud thought to save some milk for Billy. In the same description on the first few pages we see that Billy is left no food either. ‘ There were a packet of dried peas and a half bottle of vinegar on the shelves. The bread bin was empty. ‘ There is a general feeling throughout the opening that Billy is very much a neglected child. When watching the film version of the novel there are some aspects of it which make us feel more sympathetic towards Billy and some things that are not shown in as much detail as the novel.
The sound and lighting are very important mediums in the opening scene, when watching the film you get a better feel for the darkness of the room and the size of the bed that Billy and Jud have to share. It starts off in complete silence until the alarm clock goes off which seems to act a signal for the bickering between Billy and Jud to begin. The camera shows the view of the bed so we can see both characters as they have their conversation of pronounced limited dialogue. Then there is a sudden shock of light shown with a mid-shot as Jud gets up and presses the light switch.
This dramatic change between dark and light and a point of view shot seems to leave Billy looking vulnerable tucked up beneath the tattered covers. As Billy gets up to get dressed into his dirty clothes we hear a soft sound of a recorder in the background, and the only light is that coming from the window. The film misses out the scene when Billy is looking for food in the kitchen and lighting the fire, and proceeds to the scene outside. In this scene we see Billy running down the street from a mid-shot and then a wide-shot as he runs across the field.